The Celtics continue their final road trip as they take on the Bucks in Milwaukee. This is the 4th and final game between these two teams in the regular season. The Celtics won the first game 122-113 in overtime on November 12 in Boston. They also won the second game 117-103 on December 12 in Boston. They lost the 3rd meeting 117-113 on Christmas Day in Milwaukee. The Celtics had 10 players on the inactive list for that game and had a bench of Juancho Hernangomez, Payton Pritchard, Jabari Parker, Norvelle Pelle, and Joe Johnson.
The Celtics are 2nd in the East and have won their last 3 games. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 22-17 on the road. They are 33-18 against Eastern Conference opponents. The Celtics are 2 games behind first place Miami and they are half a game ahead of third place Milwaukee and 4th place Philadelphia. They are 3.5 games ahead of 5th place Toronto and 5 games ahead of 6th place Chicago.
The Bucks are currently 3rd in the East. They won their last game at Chicago after losing the two games before that one. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are 26-14 at home. They are 31-18 against other Eastern Conference teams. They are 2.5 games behind first place. They are half a game behind 2nd place Boston and tied with 4th place Philadelphia. Boston owns the tie breaker over both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. That makes this a huge game for both teams in the standings.
The Celtics are playing in the second game of their final 3 game road trip. They played at Chicago on Wednesday and will complete the road trip and their regular season on Sunday at Memphis. The Bucks played in Chicago on Tuesday and will finish the season on the road at Detroit and at Cleveland. This is the second of back to back games for the Celtics. They are 8-6 in the second of back to back games and they are 5-2 when both games are on the road.
For the Celtics, Jayson Tatum (knee) and Al Horford (back) are out. Nick Stauskas (ankle) and Juwan Morgan (covid) are both listed as out along with Robert Williams III, who remains out after surgery on his knee. Marcus Smart, who tweaked his ankle in Wednesday’s game, is listed as probable.
For Milwaukee, the only player currently listed on the injury list is DeAndre’ Bembry who is out with a knee injury. Luca Vildoza is expected to finalize a two-year contract with the Bucks in the coming days but isn’t likely to be with the team for this game. Both teams may choose to rest players so the starters and injury lists may change.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (knee) out
Jayson Tatum (knee) out
Al Horford (back) out
Nick Stauskas (ankle) out
Juwan Morgan (covid) out
Marcus Smart (ankle) probable
Probable Bucks Starters
Bobby Portis, Jr
DeAndre’ Bembry (knee) out
Grayson Allen (hip) doubtful
Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) probable
2 Way Players
Al Horford vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo is averaging 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. He is shooting 55.4% from the field and 29.6% from beyond the arc. He is vying with Joel Embiid for the MVP award and also looking to join Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the only Bucks to average over 30 points per game. He had 36 points and 12 rebounds in the game on Christmas Day. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him looking to have a big game in this one to increase his odds against Embiid. The Celtics need to keep him from doing so.
Jayson Tatum vs Khris Middleton
Middleton is averaging 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game. He is shooting 44.1% from the field and 37.4% from beyond the arc. Since the All Star break, he is shooting 45% from the field and 41.6% from beyond the arc. He always seems to have hist biggest games against the Celtics for some reason. The Celtics need a big game from Jayson Tatum on both offense and defense.
Marcus Smart vs Jrue Holiday
Holiday is averaging 18.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. He is shooting 50.2% from the field and 41.6% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to especially keep him off the 3 point line. He had 17 points and 4 steals on Christmas Day. He has been playing very well and the Celtics need to stay with him on defense to keep him from having a big game in this one.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the most important key to winning. The Bucks are 3rd in the league, averaging 115.2 points per game while the Celtics are 13th, averaging 111.2 points per game. The Bucks are 4th in the league, making 14.1 three pointers per game so the Celtics have to especially guard the Bucks on the perimeter. The Celtics are first in the league with a defensive rating of 106.1 while the Bucks are 15th with a defensive rating of 111.0. The Celtics likely will struggle to win a shoot out with the Bucks and so they have to increase their defensive intensity. They must work at getting stops if they hope to win this game.
Rebound - Next to defense, rebounding is a key to winning. Much of rebounding is effort and desire and when the Celtics put out the extra effort on the boards, it usually carries through to the rest of their game. The Celtics average 46.0 rebounds per game (5th) while the Bucks are 2nd in the league with 46.7 rebounds per game. The Celtics must increase their effort to crash the glass as a team and beat the Bucks to rebounds. The Bucks get 13.5 second chance points per game and the Celtics can limit that if they work harder on the boards.
Stay Focused - The Celtics have to stay focused on taking care of the ball. Too often they turn the ball over too much and give their opponents an advantage with points off turnovers. They have to focus on making crisp passes and on careful ball handling. They also need to focus on taking good shots and on hitting those shots. They also need to stay focused on defense and play the kind of smothering lock down defense that has gotten them to the second seed in the East. The Celtics must stay focused and take care of the ball, focus on taking and making good shots, and focus on playing tough team defense.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive from the opening tip to the final buzzer. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They can’t let the Bulls outwork them for any period of time during the game. They have to play with confidence and and not let up.
Fatigue and Injuries - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games and also had to travel to Milwaukee after playing in Chicago on Wednesday night. The Bucks have been off since Tuesday and will be at home. Also the Bucks are 5th in pace and so like to get up and down the court quickly. Fatigue may be a factor for the Celtics down the stretch. The Celtics are playing with various bumps and bruises and may have players sitting out for rest. All this may affect the result of the game.
Officiating - Officiating always has the possibility to be an x-factor. Every officiating crew calls games differently. Some call it tight and some let them play. Some have a bias against certain teams and certain players. Some favor the home team while others call it straight for both teams. Giannis will always get star calls that other players don’t. The Celtics have to adjust to how this game is being called by the crew and not allow officiating to take away their focus from playing the game.